Next week, while shoppers will be dashing in and out of stores — and caving to the pressures of the holiday season — the art community will be feeling its own anxiety. Art Basel in Miami Beach, the top art show in the United States, kicks off on December 3, 2009. This event, the U.S. version of Switzerland’s Art Basel show, will bring more than 250 art galleries from around the world, showing 20th and 21st century pieces from more than 2,000 artists. The exhibitions will be held in Miami’s Art Deco District. Video, performance and public art will be on display, and collectors will have the chance to open their wallets.
The art community is pretty nervous. The market has spent the past year in a slump, with auction prices falling 70 percent or more and some collectors unable to sell their pieces, even when willing to accept such dismal prices. There are signs that the art market is recovering, but the near future is far from certain.
My art car friend, Greg Phelps knows a lot about funky travel. He still talks about that crane hotel in the Netherlands that he and his girlfriend stayed in earlier this year after Gadling’s suggestion. Today he sent me a travel tidbit that led me to train stations. Here is a Web page link that takes visitors around the U.S. via a combination of vintage postcards and photographs to the train stations with art deco architecture. There is an historical overview of each place, including what became of them all.
For example, Union Terminal in Cincinnati, a truly wonderful building now houses several vibrant museums, including the Museum of Natural History. Figuring out just the right use for this gem took patience. It failed as a shopping mall. My favorite part of the building is the front. Doesn’t it look like a huge 1930s radio? Inside, there are large mosaics that depict various scenes of American work life. Here’s a bit of film trivia: in the movie “Rain Man” a scene was shot here. It is after Tom Cruise picked up Dustin Hoffman from the institution and was figuring out how to take him to California. They went to Union Terminal in hopes of catching a train. You can briefly see the mosaics in the background. Amtrak does use a portion of the building, but from what I recall, the few trains that do pass through here do so at night.
Some of these art deco stations no longer exist since they have been taken down to make room for “progress.” Browsing the stations is an interesting look at how travel in the U.S. has changed.
Against opposition from architects and cultural conservationists, George Voulgarakis has cleared the way for the razing of a once-protected art deco building in Athens, Greece, because the building stands in the way of a direct view of the Acropolis from the new landmark Acropolis Museum. Voulgarakis also added that demolition of the building “would allow the plot to be excavated ‘to reveal antiquities whose existence is considered highly likely.'”
The Culture Minister revoked state protection of Areopagitou 17 and 19 when the rest of the nation was focused on forest fires in the southern part of the country.
The building, standing just 300 meters from the Acropolis, was designed by Greek architect Vassilis Kouremenos, a Paris-trained friend of Pablo Picasso. Ironically, the structure was originally protected by the driving force behind the new museum, the late actress and former Culture Minister Melina Mercouri.
Two adjacent buildings on Dionyssiou Areopagitou Street will not be automatically demolished, as they are both still protected by the Ministry of Public Works. But Voulgarakis’ decision is expected to ease the way for that listing to be revoked too.
Right in the heart of Ocean Drive — smack dab in the middle of the Art Deco District — sits this building. With pastel flashes of color surrounding it, this 12-bedroom, 13-bathroom Mediterranean Revival home, in all its cream-colored glory is probably the most famous building on the strip. It’s certainly the most photographed. What is it? It’s Casa Casuarina, of course.
Casa Casurina was built in 1935 and features a gorgeous oolitic limestone entryway and stairs, and a Cuban barrel tile roof (each tile of which is rumored to have been molded on the thighs of beautiful Cuban maidens). A replica of the home in the Dominican Republic in which Christopher Columbus’ eldest son lived (La Casa del Cordon), Casa Casuarina is also where Versace took his last breath. He was gunned down on the front steps of this building by Andrew Cunanan in 1997.
Gianni Versace purchased the building in 1992 for $2.9 million and renovated it substantially. Peter Loftin, a telecommunications billionaire, purchased it in 2000 for approximately $19 million and is converting it into an “invitation only B&B” (for around $2500/night). Alternatively, the entire house is available for private events — at a cost of $10,000 a night.
I’m sad to announce that flashing my Gadling Press Pass did NOT grant me access to the interior. Sorry. But you can take a sneak peak at the home’s elegant appointments here.
So what exactly is “Art Deco”? It’s a style of architecture that developed during the early 1900s that usually combines straight lines, symmetry, and geometric shapes. In its hey-day, it was viewed as decorative, elegant, and modern. Today, it’s super-fanciful, and almost over-the-top ornate. A prime example of Art Deco is the Clevelander, one of South beach’s most famous landmarks and a fairly hip nightspot — if you don’t mind a bunch of college-aged kids.
When we arrived in South Beach, we headed to the Miami Design Preservation League. Though I don’t usually enjoy organized tours much, I signed up for one of theirs. I was curious to learn something about the history of this whimsical area, generally, and something about Art Deco, specifically. At $20 per person, the price of tour is money well-spent, as the volunteers are both knowledgeable and passionate about the subject.
Come with me, as I give you an abbreviated, virtual tour:
We arrived at the MDPL just in time for the 10:30 tour.
Adjacent to Lummus Park Beach…
…our guide explained that South Beach’s Art Deco District is the oldest 20th Century architectural historic district in the nation. Before we even left the MDPL’s property, we turned and saw the Edison Hotel. Note the clean, symmetrical lines.
From there, we walked by the Beach Patrol.
Still in use today, the Beach patrol Building was built in 1938. Evidently, it was designed to make people who couldn’t afford to go on an ocean liner feel like they were somewhere tropical and faraway. Obviously, you can’t miss the Patrol’s nautical theme. Portholes figure prominently in lots of Art Deco.
Rounding the corner, we headed back to the Clevelander. Built in 1938, the Rattner family sold the building in the 1980s for $800,000. In 2001, it was sold again for $16 million. Of course, the pool had been added and the building upgraded, but still…
Walking north, we passed the Congress Hotel. See the “eyebrows” above the windows? These are important components of Art Deco. At the time, they were incorporated to keep out the rain — and the sun. Of course, there was no A/C in the area at that time. In this picture, you can see how symmetrical the building is. Have you also begun to get the sense of the importance of the “rule of threes” in the architectural style?
Built in 1937, the Victor has no eyebrows, but you can see that symmetry and straight lines are still important in the design. Originally, the Victor was NOT connected to the left-hand building. Interestingly, there’s a pool above the entryway between the two buildings. If you look very, very closely, you can see the topless woman sunning herself, just to left of the largest palm tree. Not that I was looking…
Today, there’s a semi-circle ballroom/lounge attached to the right-hand-side of the Victor.
A little north of the Victor is the Tides. Built in 1936, this is, reportedly J Lo’s favorite place to brunch. She wasn’t there this morning, though. Around the entryway, you can make out the oolitic limestone that designers favored during this period. Of course, oolitic limestone is not used today, as it’s harvested from the ocean and damages the environment. See the portholes?
Very square and symmetrical, the Leslie is next. Note the Zigaruts, which are the vertical “racing stripes” that shoot skyward. These are used to hide unsightly roof lines. Lots of Art Deco buildings incorporate these.
Next up: the Carlyle. Though still Art Deco-y, you can see how by 1941, architects were steering away from straight lines and were incorporating curved lines into their buildings. See the sweeping eyebrows? Note that the “rule of threes” is still adhered to, though.
Recognize the Carlyle? It was featured in The Birdcage.
What about this building? It was featured in There’s Something About Mary. Can you tell how Art Deco is getting softer and curvier? This is the Cordoza Hotel, owned by Gloria Estefan. (BTW, the blond in the lower right corner of the image is our guide.)
And moving on…
…we pass the Cavalier…
… and come to the Winter Haven, at one time owned by Al Capone.
Note the classic elements of Art Deco design in the building: the threes, the straight lines, the Zigaruts (modified, apparently, to look like waves).
We decided to go inside and have a look around.
Completely restored, the Winter Haven looks very much like it did when it was built in 1938.
Back outside, we noticed that even the beach’s bathrooms look Art Deco.
Of course, there were more buildings to see on the tour, and I’ll show them to you, but this — by and large — marks the end of the strip of “classic” Art Deco buildings.
As I mentioned, this tour is highly recommended, as you learn all sorts of interesting tid-bits. For example:
The phrase “Art Deco” was used first in 1966.
Up until the 1980s, Art Deco buildings were not painted bright pastels. When Michael Mann was shooting Miami Vice, he thought the scenery would have more pop if the buildings were brightly colored. Consequently, he told property owners that if they painted their exteriors, the buildings would be on TV. They obliged, and the rest is history. Today, South Beach is the second-most-visited part of Florida — right behind Disney. Who knows what the area would look like if Mann hadn’t spoken up?